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Solar Energy: One Competition Down, Millions of Homes to Go

By: Natalie Morris, Contributing Writer
In: In the news, Product review
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I’ve always been fascinated by solar energy. Maybe that’s because I live in the Phoenix, Arizona metro area, a part of the country known colloquially—and quite accurately—as the “Valley of the Sun.” Here in Phoenix, most residents have a love-hate relationship with the sunshine for which we are so well-known. We celebrate cloudy, overcast days as if they were priceless treasures. We groan when the temperatures hit 100 degrees in October and then gloat as we enjoy 80 degrees in February.

With sunshine a reality 300+ days each year, you’d think solar energy would be part of every household in the Phoenix area. Unfortunately that’s not yet the case, but Valley residents like me continue to watch the solar power industry’s development with hope.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is doing its part to raise awareness about solar energy options. For the first three weeks of October, the DOE sponsored a Solar Decathlon on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to raise awareness about this renewable energy resource. During the event, 20 student teams competed to design and build beautiful and energy-efficient homes powered by solar energy.

Team Germany's winning solar house.  Photo credit: U.S. Department of Energy

Team Germany's winning solar house. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Energy

At the end of the 2009 Solar Decathlon the team from Germany—Technische Universität Darmstadt—won the overall challenge. The house they built (pictured here) generated all of the energy it needed to function independently and actually produced excess energy that could be used for other purposes. The highlight of the German house was its prominent use of photovoltaic solar cells, which convert sunlight directly into electricity.

By putting on the Solar Decathlon, the DOE hopes to encourage new research and development of solar energy technology, promote energy efficiency to consumers, and continue the general dialogue about the importance of renewable energy sources like the sun. Solar energy won’t be used in every home tomorrow, but the industry continues to grow.

How quickly will solar energy become commonplace in American homes? Not quickly enough for the DOE, and not quickly enough for those of us living in the Valley of the Sun. More to come ….

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